The 2016-17 season awards include: All-NAHL Team, Most Valuable Player, Forward of the Year, Defenseman of the Year, Vaughn Hockey Goaltender of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, General Manager of the Year, Executive of the Year and Organization of the Year, along with the Apex Learning Virtual School Academic Achievement Award, Leadership Award and Community Service Award. Here is a look at the winners:
2016-17 All-NAHL 1st Team
Forward: Paul Cotter, Brookings Blizzard
Forward: Frankie Melton, Shreveport Mudbugs
Forward: George Mika, Amarillo Bulls
Defense: Croix Evingson, Shreveport Mudbugs
Defense: Brennan Kapcheck, Aston Rebels
Goaltender: Mareks Mitens, Aston Rebels
2016-17 All-NAHL 2nd Team
Forward: Matt Barry, Bismarck Bobcats
Forward: Caleb Schroer, Coulee Region Chill
Forward: Chase Thudium, Odessa Jackalopes
Defense: Andy Carroll, Aberdeen Wings
Defense: Gvido Jansons, Aston Rebels
Goaltender: Erik Gordon, Fairbanks Ice Dogs
2016-17 Most Valuable Player and Vaughn Goaltender of the Year: Mareks Mitens, Aston Rebels
Mitens, 19, rewrote in the NAHL record books during the 2016-17 season. The 6’1/176 lbs. native of Ventspids, Latvia, posted an NAHL-record 11 shutouts during the regular season, which set a new NAHL single-season record. Mitens also led the league in wins with 31 and goals against average with a 1.63 mark. His 92.5% save percentage also ranked 7th among NAHL goaltenders. On April 13th, Mitens made an NCAA Division I commitment to Lake Superior State University. He played in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship for his home country and Latvia. Mitens was the NAHL Goalie of the Month in both October and November and was the Runner-up for the award in September.
2016-17 Forward of the Year: George Mika, Amarillo Bulls
Mika, 20, made the most of his third and final season in the NAHL. The native of Naples, Florida, posted 69 points during the 2016-17 season, which included 30 goals and 39 assists, along with a +8 rating. His 30 goals was tied for 3rd best in the NAHL during the regular season and his 69 points is the most for a Bulls player since the 2011-12 season. Mika (5’11/181) was named the NAHL’s Forward of the Month in September and finished runner-up for the award in December. In early December, he committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at the University of Massachusetts. In 134 career NAHL regular season games, Mika finished with 116 career points.
2016-17 Defenseman of the Year: Croix Evingson, Shreveport Mudbugs
Shreveport Mudbugs defenseman Croix Evingson, 19, posted one of the better seasons by a defenseman in recent NAHL history. The native of Anchorage, Alaska, who was a 7th round draft pick by the Mudbugs in the 2016 NAHL Draft, made an immediate splash this season with the expansion Mudbugs as he was named the NAHL’s Defenseman of the Month in September. Evingson (6’5/210) recorded 52 points during the 2016-17 season, which not only led all NAHL defensemen, but was the most points for an NAHL defenseman since the 2010-11 season. In the middle of October, Evingson committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at UMass-Lowell. He was also selected to and played in the 2017 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament for the NAHL Selects team.
2016-17 Rookie of the Year: Paul Cotter, Brookings Blizzard
Cotter, who turned 17 in the middle of the season, had one of the best seasons for a young rookie in recent memory. The native of Canton, Michigan, was a 6th round draft pick of the Blizzard in the 2016 NAHL Draft and made an immediate impact in the NAHL. Cotter (6’0/185) led the Blizzard in scoring during the 2016-17 regular season with 60 points, which included 28 goals and 32 assists. His 60 points was tied for 6th among all NAHL players. Following the Showcase in late September, Cotter made his NCAA Division I commitment to Western Michigan University. His 60 points was the most for a Blizzard player since the 2010-11 season.
2016-17 Coach of the Year: Joe Coombs, Aston Rebels
Now in his 4th season with the organization, Aston Rebels head coach Joe Coombs took his team to new heights in the 2016-17 season. The Rebels posted the best record during the NAHL regular season at 46-11-3. The Rebels have also had 11 players make NCAA Division I commitments this season. Coombs served as the head coach of the East Division team at the 2017 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament and led the club to a 2-0 record at the event with wins over the NAHL Selects and Midwest Division. The Rebels had three players named to the All-NAHL teams and four players named to the All-East Division Team. Coombs was also named the East Division Coach and General Manager of the Year.
2016-17 General Manager of the Year: Scott Muscutt, Shreveport Mudbugs
As an expansion team in 2016-17, the Shreveport Mudbugs exceeded many of their expectations, both on and off the ice, led by General Manager Scott Muscutt. On the ice, the Mudbugs finished in 2nd place in the NAHL’s South Division with a 35-19-6 record. They also had four players make NCAA Division I commitments during the season. Off the ice, the Mdubugs had a ground swelling of support from the community as they finished 2nd in overall league-wide attendance with an average of 2,850 fans per game. The Mudbugs also saw a renewed sense of spirit with many of their community initiatives both at the rink and at community events.
2016-17 Executive of the Year: Pat Dunn, Corpus Christi IceRays
The 2016-17 season was the best for the Corpus Christi IceRays in their seven-year history in the NAHL. General Manager and primary governor Pat Dunn was the mastermind behind the team’s success on and off the ice. On the ice, Dunn hired new head coach Brad Flynn, who took the team to new heights during the 2016-17 season, as the IceRays finished 3rd in the NAHL’s South Division with a 32-19-9 record. The 32 wins were the most for the IceRays in their NAHL history. The team also saw nine players make NCAA Division I commitments. Off the ice, the team led the NAHL in attendance this season with an average of 3,028 fans per game, which included a total of 11,667 fans during the team’s final two-game home stand of the season.
2016-17 Organization of the Year: Shreveport Mudbugs
As an expansion team in 2016-17, the Shreveport Mudbugs revitalized a passionate hockey community in what is traditionally a non-hockey market in the Southern United States. After the professional hockey version of the Mudbugs in 2011, the community was hungry for a team to call its own again. Enter owner Tommy Scott and general manager Scott Muscutt, who brought together a staff that would re-introduce the Mudbugs to the community. That included hiring one of the good and young coaches in junior hockey in Karlis Zirnis, who directed the Mudbugs to a 2nd place finish in the South Division. The Mudbugs also were heavy in their community involvement as they had team visits to local hospitals and schools and also spent time serving meals in the community and assisting with the local youth hockey program. They also finished 2nd in overall league-wide attendance with an average of 2,850 fans per game.
2016-17 Apex Learning Virtual School Academic Achievement Award: Ryan Leibold, Springfield Jr. Blues
Springfield Jr. Blues forward Ryan Leibold, 18, finished high school during the 2016-17 season in Springfield playing for the Jr. Blues. He finished with a 4.1 GPA this season and a 4.0 cumulative High School GPA. Leibold was named to the Honor Roll every semester in High School along with the National Honor Society. During the season, the 5’10/180 lbs. native of Ashburn, Virginia, committed to play NCAA Division I hockey and was accepted to West Point (Army). The former NAPHL’er had 32 points in 60 games during his rookie campaign.
2016-17 Leadership Award: Gage Mackie, Aberdeen Wings
Aberdeen Wings captain Gage Mackie’s, 19, passion and purpose as a leader is to help each player be the best they can be and to instill a selfless culture in the Wing’s locker room, because he knows that is what leads to a successful team. Mackie (6’3/205) won the Aberdeen Wings Heart Award this season, which was given to the player who gives his heart and soul each and every day to the Aberdeen Wings on and off the ice. This award was voted on by his peers, local media, and staff and is a huge honor. On the ice, the native of Anchorage, Alaska, recorded 35 points in 50 games and is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Arizona State. Off the ice, Mackie helps out wherever he can, whether it’s going to the school of the blind and spending time with their students, or helping move furniture for those who are less fortunate, he loves helping and working to make a difference. He also tries to be the best role model that he can be for the young Wings fans. He knows how much they look up to the players, so he is always approachable, and does his best to make a lasting impression on them.
2016-17 Community Service Award: Ryan Wheeler, New Jersey Titans
New Jersey Titans defenseman Ryan Wheeler, 19, has gone above and beyond with community service efforts. His desire to help others inspires his teammates to want to assist as well. Wheeler, a native of Lancaster, New York, has been instrumental in helping out with many local charities in the Middletown, New Jersey area, but what he is most recognized for is his “Bullying Presentation”. Wheeler visit local schools each week where he presents to 3rd through 5th graders on Sports & Bullying and has made this presentation his own. He speaks with the students about his own experiences both good and bad. Wheeler (5’11/165) has also been instrumental on the ice as well with the younger Titans teams. Again, he has shared his own experiences with the younger players and helped them to overcome stumbling blocks both on and off the ice. He reinforces the importance of academics as well as hockey. His off-ice community services efforts include The Mini-Horse Heroes – A Foundation in Memory of Ken Tietjen. He assisted in rebuilding and painting horse stalls. He spent countless hours preparing the stalls so that the horses could be moved back into their home as soon as possible. This charity also participated in a local “Blue Lives Matters” event. The charity along with Ryan put together goody bags for all local police departments in the surrounding area, this included State Police as well. Over 300 bags were assembled and delivered. Ryan continued to look for various charities that the New Jersey Titans could assist. He also recently began working with the Bagged Blessing Brigade, which is a non-profit organization that makes peanut butter & jelly sandwiches along with zip lock bags filled with personal hygiene products for the homeless. He helped set up and prepare for various cub scouts and girl scouts to attend. He oversaw the making of over 300 peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and 350 personal hygiene bags. This organization is one that Wheeler feels strongly about and he has gone ahead and set up a night a month to make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches along with other volunteers at the New Jersey Titans ice rink. He always is the first player to stand up and want to help anyway that he can. His hard work and dedication to all of the above has been noted by these charities. Their founders have all indicated what a kind & generous person he is and how his efforts have assisted their programs significantly.